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Using Sign Language to Help the Hearing ADD or ADHD Child

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

ADD and ADHD children learn better when information is presented visually (create a mental picture) and kinesthetically (through movement). Using sign language signs with these students can give them that visual and kinesthetic representation that will help them to learn successfully.

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    Helping the ADHD Student with Sign Language

    You have a student who has a difficult time paying attention in class and has a lack of focus. This child may even be a busy child and always seems to be on the go. He/She may have been labeled ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), or maybe not. Whether or not this child has been “labeled" does not take away the fact that this child is in your class and you have been given the responsibility of educating him/her. There are some tips/tricks/tools out there that can help, and one of them is to use American Sign Language signs in collaboration with your curriculum and classroom management.

    Dr. Marilyn Daniels states in her book, "Dancing With Words," that children who have been diagnosed with ADD have a higher potential for learning new words when information is presented visually. The point is clearly articulated by Freed and Parsons in Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child: ‘It is a given that these youngsters (ADD) must visualize in order to learn and that they process exclusively in pictures" (1997, p.61)." Therefore, to help an ADD or ADHD child to understand a new word, you need to help them to see a visual image of that word in their mind, or create a mental picture. Because sign language signs are often iconic in nature, that is the sign looks like the actual object, it can help a child to develop that mental picture. Even when a sign is not iconic, it still gives a visual representation of the word, thereby helping the visual learner create meaning.

    Another benefit that can especially help the ADHD child is that sign language is not only a visual language, but is also a language that requires movement. When you demonstrate a sign to your student and they repeat it back to you, they are showing you the new word that they are learning with their hands, bodies, and facial expressions. They get an opportunity to use their bodies to learn, really helping to focus those kinesthetic learners.

    When sign language is added to your teaching, your students become active participants in their learning and not just passive listeners. Because they get to see it visually and make the words with their hands and bodies, they will be more engaged in their learning. Using sign language in your classroom, will not only help all of the hearing children in your class, but will present your curriculum in a way that especially helps the ADD or ADHD child to learn.